What is a hernia?
A hernia occurs when tissues or organs bulge through a weak point in the wall of the abdomen (belly muscles).
Some hernias are there at birth. Some occur after surgery.
Other times, weaknesses develop in the muscles of the belly wall over time and eventually ‘give out’, causing a hernia.
Types of hernias
There are a number of different types of hernia, including:
- Hiatus hernia — Part of the stomach pushes up into the chest through the opening in the diaphragm (the layer of muscle separating the stomach from the chest) where the oesophagus (food pipe) passes through.
- Inguinal hernia — The bowel or other abdominal tissue pushes through the abdominal wall in the groin area. Inguinal hernias are more common in men.
- Umbilical hernia — The bowel or abdominal tissue pushes through the abdominal wall near the belly button (naval). Umbilical hernias are more common in newborns.
- Incisional hernia — The bowel or other abdominal tissue pushes through the abdominal wall where it’s been made weak by surgery or trauma.
- Femoral hernia — The bowel or other abdominal tissue pushes through the abdominal wall near where the leg joins the body. Femoral hernias are more common in women.
- Epigastric hernias — The abdominal fat pushes through the abdominal wall between the belly button and below the rib cage.
Who is at risk of a hernia?
Hernias are generally more common in people whose abdomens are under more pressure than usual. This includes people who do a lot of heavy lifting, who are obese, pregnant, have a chronic cough, or have chronic constipation.
What should I do if I think I have a hernia?
Hernias may not cause any symptoms, but typical symptoms include:
- a bulge in the groin or abdomen
- pain, heaviness or discomfort, especially when coughing, straining or lifting
- a pulling sensation around the bulge
If your doctor thinks you may have a hernia, he or she will examine you. Your doctor may ask you to cough, strain or stand while pressing on the hernia. You may also be asked to have an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — but scans aren’t necessary for everyone.
Depending on the type of hernia, if it is small, or if it not causing any problems, then you and your doctor may decide to wait and see what happens.
But if the hernia is very large, or if it’s causing pain or getting trapped at times, then surgery will usually be recommended.
And if it’s trapped and can’t be pushed back, and you are in serious pain, you should see a doctor immediately as you could need emergency surgery.
Last reviewed: January 2019